1. What is Dry Eye?
Dry eye is a condition affecting the front surface of the eye that is caused by either a low volume of tears or because the quality of your tears is poor. Your natural tears provide moisture & nourishment to the front surface of the eye. Any change in the normal chemistry of your tears can start contributing to dry eye issues.
2. How do I know if I have Dry Eye?
Dry eye can cause quite a few symptoms, anything from the eyes actually feeling dry to the eyes watering often, or having a burning, itchy, or irritated feeling. One of the most common symptoms is the eyes feeling gritty or like something is in your eye. Most people will often experience blurred vision since the tears, which comprise the outermost surface of the eye, are unstable.
3. Is it serious? What's the worst that can happen if I have it?
Dry eye can be very serious and quite debilitating for some patients. For most patients, their dry eye is mild to moderate and can be managed well with the use of artificial tears or lubricants, supplements such as fish oil or flax seed oil, or some prescription agents. For more severe dry eye, prescription eye drops may be used, plugs may be inserted into your tear ducts, or other surgical procedures may be considered.
4. Are there different types of Dry Eyes?
Yes. There are two major classifications of dry eye. These include dry eye due to poor tear quality. Most of the time, this is where the tears evaporate very quickly off the surface of the eyes or the tears to not distribute appropriately across the surface of the eye with each blink. The other type is due to a low volume of tears on the surface of the eye – the medical term for this type of dry eye is keratoconjunctivitis sicca.
5. Are certain demographics more prone to getting Dry Eye?
Dry eye is typically found in older adults, and it is most commonly a chronic condition. Women are more prone to developing dry eye than men, particularly women who are pregnant, taking oral contraceptives or who are post-menopausal.
Dry eye is also seen often in patients who have a thyroid condition or with diabetes. Many auto-immune conditions also exhibit dry eye, such as sarcoidosis and rheumatoid arthritis. Certain medications can also contribute to dry eye, such as allergy medications (antihistamines), antidepressants, and some blood pressure medications. Some people will experience dry eye with changes in season, especially during the winter.
Individuals who are exposed to cigarettes, cigars, or vapor can also experience dry eye symptoms. Certain activities, such as computer & cell phone usage, are associated with decreased blink rates which can ultimately cause dryness to the surface of the eyes since the tears are not being redistributed as often.
6. Anything I can do to prevent it?
Dry eye is multifactorial, and each person’s dry eye is unique to them. To help prevent dry eye, make sure to consume 8 to 10 glasses of water per day to avoid dehydration. Some nutritional supplements, such as fish oil and flaxseed oil, can contribute to a more stable tear layer.
Remember to blink regularly and take breaks often when on a computer, cell phone or when watching television. During times of the year when there is less humidity, a humidifier might be helpful to provide more moisture in the air.
7. Once I have Dry Eye, what are the treatments?
Dry eye treatments include initially trying quality artificial tears that help provide moisture to the front surface of the eye. Most of these artificial tears are readily available over the counter, but sometimes selecting one that will help can be confusing with the large selection that is available.
If the usage of artificial tears alone is not enough to help combat dry eye, prescription medications such as Restasis® or Xiidra® may be used. Another treatment option that is often used is punctal plugs. Small plugs made of silicone are inserted in the tear ducts (puncta) which help keep your natural tears on the surface of your eyes longer.
Sometimes, there are other conditions affecting the eyes that can cause dry eye treatment to not work well initially. Ocular allergies and blepharitis are often treated along with dry eye to help restore the surface health.
8. Does insurance cover the treatments for Dry Eye?
Over the counter artificial tears and nutritional supplements are not usually covered by insurance. If a prescription medication is used or if punctal plugs are recommended, a patient’s medical insurance often pays toward these. Of course, everyone’s insurance is very different, so it would be best to contact your insurance provider with questions regarding if specific treatments are covered.
9. Do all optometrists treat Dry Eyes or only certified ones?
All optometrists are trained in the diagnosis and treatment of dry eye disease. Some optometrists may have access to certain diagnostic equipment that can provide more details on the chemistry of the surface of the eye.